A wallet in your phone

Thinking of using QR codes for a campaign? Don’t, try a wallet in your phone instead.

For those that don’t scour technology websites we’d like to introduce near-field communication. Or, more appropriately, the invention we’ll all be getting to know very well over the next couple of years- the NFC chip. They say it will change everything. OK, so maybe not quite everything, but still even when you ignore the hyperbole current predictions and statistics make it difficult not to be impressed.

Already some 70,000 bars, shops and restaurants in the UK have NFC technology installed, and one in six mobile phone models will come equipped with NFC as standard by 2014, which equates to around 950million global subscribers. So then, what exactly is it, and why does it mean the end for the QR code?

Cutting to the chase, the QR code has been around for a while. A type of barcode, when scanned by a mobile phone camera with a reader app information is transmitted to the device, be that details of an event, a promotional offer, food sell-by date, business data… whatever, it doesn’t matter.

Obviously marketing folk were interested in the potential, and Asia embraced the technology with open arms. The UK, on the other hand, was slower to get involved, and campaigns have, on the whole, been less prominent. Then Google stopped supporting QR on Places, and started getting people familiar with NFC chips. So now the likes of Samsung and Nexus have begun building them into Android phones, for a few good reasons.

Near field communication allows information to be transmitted wirelessly. That means while QR codes took time to scan, and had to have a reader installed on the device, NFC chips do it all automatically, taking almost no time at all to perform the same task- just hold the phone near whatever you want to read.

And there’s also a lot more to the story. Because this is the most likely way that our mobile phones could replace debit and credit cards, allowing people to pay in shops wirelessly. The iPhone 5 is rumoured to include the feature, and both Google and Apple are said to be ‘interested’ in payment via mobile technology.

While being slightly more far fetched boffins have already mused on numerous other potential uses for NFC too, ranging from door keys and passports, to helping analyse the fat content of a frozen meal, or judging the quality of a restaurant by instantly finding online reviews. Needless to say, the possibilities are almost endless, not least in the world of advertising, marketing and PR. Just what impact this will have in Britain is impossible to say, but with such little effort required on the part of the mobile phone user it’s difficult not to see it taking off, again proving why smartphones are arguably the most important technology we have today.